Ask the Coach — Week 19

This is the column where, each week, I’ll be answering one website visitor’s question in hopes of supporting all visitors through shared (and likely, relevant) challenges, triumphs, and struggles.

Dear Kerri,

What would be the best way to tell a friend I no longer want to listen to her ongoing complaining about her partner. She can and has built a good case for why she is so frustrated and hopeless about anything changing, but I’m tired of listening to her being the victim. My input goes in one ear and out the other, and then it’s back to the complaining. Help?

Annoyed in Alaska

Dear Annoyed,

That’s a great question, and it highlights a situation I’m sure we all have been in at one time or another. What usually stops people from setting necessary boundaries is the effective language to do so.

I would suggest you start by introducing her to the idea of taking action. Consider saying something like, “You’ve got a lot of good points there and I can understand why you feel so frustrated. How can I support you in making a change, whatever change feels right to you?”

If she continues to just complain (which may very likely happen), you can tweak it a bit the next time. Something like, “I’m glad you feel comfortable using me as a sounding board, but it hurts me to see you so aggravated. I wouldn’t be a good friend if I just let you gripe. So how can I support you in taking action?”

Next step would be something along the lines of “I’m sorry you’re so frustrated. Because I care about you, I’m no longer going to make myself available to vent to, as that just gives you a temporary reprieve and I want a more permanent one for you. I will, however, be right there with you if you want to make a change.”

The final, very firm boundary — if needed — would be. “I’ve mentioned to you several times now that I can’t just listen to you complain. It’s not good for you, it’s not good for me, and it’s certainly not good for our friendship. So, unless you want to talk about what you can DO to make things better, I’m going to need to (leave, get off the phone, etc).

It’s important to remember that setting boundaries is not only great self care, but it’s a gift to the other person as well. By letting your friend continue to complain is allowing her to live in a powerless way. By having this conversation with her challenges her to take action, or at the very least, take stock of her situation.

For more support on setting boundaries, be sure to check out my recorded teleclass on Setting Boundaries and Handling Difficult Conversations. You can find it here.

Good for you for caring enough about yourself and your friendship to take this step!


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